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Newcomer Students

According to the U.S. Department of Education (2023), newcomers refers to K-12 students born outside the United States who have arrived in the country in the last three years and are still learning English. The term newcomer families refers to the families or guardians of these students. Some newcomers may arrive in the United States voluntarily (e.g., to reunite with families or to work), while others are forced to leave their home countries due to violence or war (e.g., refugees). U.S. schools are essential civic institutions for welcoming all types of newcomers to the United States and can be well situated to address and mitigate challenges newcomers face, such as prejudices and xenophobia that lead to hostility and discrimination. School and district leaders have the important responsibility of countering this negativity by ensuring a safe, inclusive, and welcoming environment for newcomers. 

Newcomers are not necessarily Multilingual Learners (MLs), as some are fluent in English, while others speak little or no English. Students identified as MLs require assistance with language acquisition (though more than 40 percent of identified MLs are born in the United States). Some MLs may need help integrating into U.S. culture. Newcomers can be any age and grade level, and older students may have some additional needs. One way to address the needs of ML students who are new to the U.S. is through newcomer programming. MLs who are recent immigrants often require information that is not considered grade level or curriculum based. By providing a welcoming environment to newcomers and their families, basic information about the academic system, academic skills, and social opportunities to help ease the transition into a new culture, schools are providing a supportive environment and a greater opportunity to learn.

In Colorado, many communities have developed immigrant integration collaboratives, which are coalitions of immigrants, refugees, mainstream organizations, and community-based organizations that are working together to promote the inclusion of newcomers. Such collaboratives are also strong avenues for working proactively to engage the community on education issues that impact refugees. More information is available at The Colorado Trust: A Healthy Equity Foundation as well as, the Office of New Americans Welcome Packet.

Educators and counselors can work with MLs in a Newcomer Center to conduct comprehensive assessments, provide an initial orientation to the school and the U.S. school system and prepare MLs for success in the established LIEPs already in place. Districts, schools, and public charter schools should have compensatory and supplemental academic instruction available to students who participate in newcomer programs in order to ensure that students are prepared to participate in the grade level curriculum within a reasonable time period (DCL, 2015).

Newcomer Centers are specially designed for those students who have limited literacy in their native language. The goal is to accelerate their acquisition of language and skills and to orient them to the U.S. and its schools. The program can follow a bilingual or sheltered approach. Generally, newcomer programs are designed to prepare students to participate successfully in a district’s language support program. Typically, students attend these programs before they enter more traditional interventions (e.g., English language development programs or mainstream classrooms with supplemental ESL instruction). The Newcomer Center can take place within a school or at a separate site.

Some MLs may be more mobile; moving from school to school, can disrupt the continuity of instruction. Schools need to accommodate these students as they enter and exit programs by ensuring that newcomer and appropriate ML instruction is available at all grade levels. Providing students with materials and records to take to their next school can also ease the transition. A number of papers and toolkits have been created to assist districts, schools, and public charter schools with newcomer programming. For more information, see resources below:


Communication Strategies for Parents and Families of Newcomer Students

Districts should utilize positive communication strategies with newcomer parents beginning from enrollment. Understanding the level of education, a child comes with can be difficult when there may be no written transcripts or when those documents are not in English. Language interpretation and translation becomes very important for these early encounters to proceed well and should be considered at all points of parent–educator interaction. 

  • Carefully examine their communication strategies with parents to make sure they are appropriate. For instance, for some parents too much information can be challenging to process. Therefore, schools should try to  communicate a manageable amount of information to refugee families so that it is not so voluminous that it becomes overwhelming. Also, direct communication from school personnel, such as a personal phone call, helps begin to build a trusted relationship over time and lays a solid foundation for ongoing parent involvement. This also tends to be far more effective than more passive forms such as sending home written flyers. 
  • Communicate in a language that is most easily understood by the parent/guardian.  While these strategies involve resources on the part of the school that are often in short supply, communicating with parents requires additional work and creative strategies. Some innovative schools employ cultural brokers who may be of the same ethnic group as the newcomer parents and families to help educators understand some common cultural barriers. While they work with the students in the classroom during the day and supplement the teacher’s instruction, they also can assist with outreach to parents. 
  • Create a parent advisory group for newcomers. Such a group can be an ongoing resource to help school personnel understand the cultural issues around schooling, can inform them of any community concerns that are arising, and can help be a voice for the school in the community. 

Encouraging Success for Newcomer Students

  • Acknowledging the contributions of all students. Students of certain cultural backgrounds may be accustomed to having their questions or input dismissed. Each response is an opportunity for educators to build deeper understanding.
  • Connecting the classroom to the real world. Students are more likely to engage if they are interested in the material and can relate to it. Educators can incorporate more familiar touchstones into lesson plans and ask students to reflect on the connections between their schoolwork and their everyday lives.
  • Using consistent body language with all students. Educators unconsciously exhibit more favorable body language towards students that remind them of themselves. For students who have felt marginalized because of their cultural backgrounds, positive nonverbal communication can have an important effect on engagement.
  • Having students work together in diverse groups. Collaborative activities can promote equality among peers, encourage students to participate, and open up opportunities for learning.
  • Welcoming student feedback throughout the year. Opening the lines of communication directly with students can provide vital information to better support students.